The Friday column May 27, 2005

The fall of the Caribbean quicks

A statistical study of the decline of the West Indian fast bowlers over the last two-and-a-half decades

Perhaps numbers never do reveal the full story, but they tell a large part of it. Every Friday, The Numbers Game will take a look at statistics from the present and the past, busting myths and revealing hidden truths:

They don't make 'em like Curtly any more © Getty Images

There used to be a time when West Indies had an embarrassment of riches in the fast-bowling department - Holding, Roberts, Garner, Croft, Marshall, Daniel, Patterson, Ambrose, Bishop, Walsh ... the list was almost endless. Now, the quick bowlers they have at their disposal are, quite simply, an embarrassment - none of them found a place in the `shortlist' of 39 announced by the ICC to represent the Rest of the World against Australia later this year, and it's quite likely that the Caribbean would have gone unrepresented in the pace-bowling category even if the list had been extended to 60.

The table below shows how the mighty have fallen over the last two-and-a-half decades. In the 1980s, the West Indian quicks were streets ahead of the rest. The never-ending barrage of fast and accurate deliveries meant there was a constant stream of unplayable deliveries for the batsmen, and a constant stream of wickets for the bowlers - over the `80s, the West Indian fast bowlers nailed 200 more victims than the fast bowlers of any other team. (Australia ran them the closest with 1050, compared to West Indies' 1257.) In terms of averages, West Indies were a clear 20% better than their nearest rivals, a Richard Hadlee-led New Zealand.

In the `90s, that dominance began to wane. Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh were still easily among the best, but the support cast began to weaken, and other teams started catching up - South Africa crept ahead of them in the averages scale with Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, and plenty of other worthy names, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis made Pakistan a formidable force, and Australia had a certain Glenn McGrath making his mark. The West Indian average of 26.62 was still excellent, but they were no longer the undisputed leaders.

Since 2000, though, West Indies have slipped inexorably, and the numbers tell the story. From 26.62, the average balloons to 33.85, with only New Zealand and India faring worse; even Sri Lanka, with their modest pace strength, have managed a slightly better average. These stats, though, have been propped up by the contributions of the indefatigable Ambrose and Walsh. Both were on their last legs during this period, but you wouldn't know that if you saw their stats - in the 30 matches they played since 2000, the duo managed 129 wickets at an outstanding average of 19.16. Remove their numbers from the overall tally, and the figures look even more miserable for the rest of the West Indies fast bowlers - 610 wickets at a woeful average of 36.96, and a strike rate of nearly 70. Among the top eight Test-playing nations, only India's numbers make for more miserable reading.

Fast bowlers down the years 1980s - Bowlers/ Tests Wkts/ average 1990s - Bowlers/ Tests Wkts/ average 2000s - Bowlers/ Tests Wkts/ average
West Indies 19/ 82 1257/ 23.28 25/ 81 1120/ 26.62 23/ 65 739/ 33.85
Australia 26/ 97 1050/ 31.07 32/ 108 1142/ 26.66 16/ 63 701/ 27.06
England 38/ 104 997/ 34.36 45/ 107 1091/ 32.47 25/ 68 848/ 30.99
India 25/ 81 501/ 34.49 20/ 70 493/ 34.41 12/ 57 377/ 39.81
New Zealand 19/ 59 666/ 27.87 29/ 82 814/ 34.22 23/ 46 474/ 34.30
Pakistan 25/ 80 665/ 30.57 24/ 77 825/ 26.24 18/ 49 452/ 31.60
South Africa - - 19/ 66 906/ 25.61 23/ 66 882/ 29.01
Sri Lanka 15/ 29 267/ 35.24 18/ 67 406/ 38.18 21/ 54 386/ 33.77

Another interesting stat which offers a hint of the lack of quality in the West Indian bowling ranks is the sheer number of bowlers used in the recent past. In the 1980s, 19 bowlers were enough to take them through 82 Tests in the entire decade; in five-and-a-half years since 2000, 23 bowlers have already been used in 65 matches. Not that the stat necessarily means that much, though: India have used just 12 fast bowlers in 57 Tests since 2000, and their combined average is the worst of the lot.

West Indies once had several bowlers who averaged less than 25, the benchmark of a high-quality bowler. Today, none are close to the mark, and only two of their current crop average less than 30. The table below highlights their pathetic plight, listing the stats of the bowlers post Ambrose and Walsh who have taken at least 30 Test wickets. These are early days for some of them, though, and hopefully a jewel will emerge from the rubbish over the next couple of years.

Matches Wickets Average
Reon King 17 50 29.64
Jermaine Lawson 10 39 29.67
Merv Dillon 38 131 33.57
Cameron Cuffy 15 43 33.84
Pedro Collins 29 96 34.14
Corey Collymore 14 37 36.65
Vasbert Drakes 12 33 41.27
Nixon McLean 19 44 42.57
Adam Sanford 11 30 43.87
Fidel Edwards 16 39 49.82

Let us know what you think

S Rajesh is assistant editor of Cricinfo. For some of the data, he was helped by Arun Gopalakrishnan, the operations manager in Cricinfo's Chennai office.